The Night Ocean
By Paul La Farge
Paul La Farge conjures up a myth regarding the sexual life of weird science writer H. P. Lovecraft. In best metafiction style, he makes it feel so real that you find yourself wondering and then searching for a copy of the supposed “Erotonomicon,” purported to be Lovecraft’s own account of his love life, particularly his relationship with Robert Barlow, author and anthropologist, when Barlow was a thirteen-year-old boy.
To further the ruse, La Farge has even created a webpage for the reissuing of the volume by fictitious Black Hour Books. Further, he festooned the book with dozens of real science fiction and fantasy writers, most still well known within the genre, and footnotes, all of which lends further veracity to the tale. It’s all quite masterfully done, and educational to boot.
He then couches all this in a mystery concerning a freelance writer, Charlie Willett, who writes a book claiming that Barlow did not commit suicide in 1951 (which he did, of course; La Farge even includes a copy of his death certificate in the novel text, but who wants to believe truth when fantasy is so much more appealing?). In Charlie’s telling, Barlow authored the “Erotonomicon,” which he explains in his book titled “The Book of the Law of Love.” When, after enjoying considerable notoriety, Charlie’s book is exposed as completely wrong. In despair, he kills himself. It’s left to his wife Marina Willett, a psychiatrist, to discover who wrote the “Erotonomicon” and for what purpose.
Here’s where the whole affair gets even more delicious. Enter L. C. Spinks, whom Marina hunts down in Parry Sound, Ontario (yes, a real town). Is the “Erotonomicon” real and witten by Barlow? L. C. Spinks tell his story, the real origin of the “Erotonomicon.” Wait, though, is it real? Is Spinks who he professes to be? Time for yet another unraveling of fact and fiction.
Here’s the thing about The Night Ocean: the fiction about Lovecraft, about the “Erotonomicon,” even about L. C. Spink’s version of how it “truly” came about, all of it proves much more satisfying than the reality revealed at the end. And what are you, the reader, left with at the end? Well, engaged as you become in myth and make-believe, in the concoction of fibs and big lies, you begin to understand the attraction that conspiracies hold for even the most rational among us. For don’t we all just hate loose ends and voids, not to mention uncomfortable and unsatisfying reality? The experience of The Night Ocean (incidentally, the title of a story filled with a subtext of sexual longing written by Lovecraft and Barlow in the time they shared), in addition to being quite a story, helps us understand the attraction.
(Please note that La Farge’s little subterfuge with Black Hour Books can be maddening. If you are curious, click on Black Hour Books.) w/c